We’ve all been there: Your mom’s best friend’s dog walker tried a crazy diet, dropped 30 lbs, and now you want to jump on board. Before you dive in, take a step back -has a fad diet ever produced long term weight loss? The answer is no, and with good reason. Any diet that’s restrictive, expecting you to drastically limit your food intake and choices isn’t realistic! To make a permanent change, you need to balance your eating and form healthy habits. In order to do so, it’s important to learn how our bodies digest food, and what nutrients it needs to function.
What is Metabolism, Anyway?
Your metabolism is the process in which the food you eat (calories) is converted into energy. Your body mainly uses the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat as it's fuel source. Each nutrient plays a different role in the body, and each is needed in different amounts! The subject of metabolism has been long debated. A person with a “slow” metabolism will have a small indulgence that turns into weight gain. On the flip side, someone with a “fast” metabolism can enjoy that same indulgence without the scale moving.
Relying on metabolism speeds feeds into a popular myth. Many people self-assess as to whether they have a “fast” or “slow” metabolism, and often use their calorie torching speed as a crutch to justify bad eating habits! The truth is, your metabolism most likely functions about the same as the next person. The best way to actually influence your calorie burn is to focus on proper nutrition and physical activity. By demystifying these nutrition myths, you’ll be able to better manage your metabolic rate and overall health. No shortcuts here, people.
MYTH: Cutting Carbs Leads to Weight Loss
Carbohydrates get a bad rep due to the influx in low-carb fad diets like Whole 30 and the Ketogenic Diet. The truth is, carbohydrates are not only the body’s main source of energy, but also it’s preferred source. Two key areas to focus on with carbohydrates are quality and quantity. By learning which carbs keep our bodies running efficiently, we can begin on the journey to optimal health!
The healthiest sources of carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fiber-rich carbohydrates assist with weight control by helping to keep you full longer. After all, when you're not hungry you're less likely to engage in mindless snacking and overeating! Fiber from carbohydrates also aids in digestion, prevents constipation, and can even help lower your cholesterol. Pass the carbs, please!
Carbohydrates are also found in unhealthy foods such as cookies, cake, white bread, soda, and many other processed treats. The high calorie and sugar content in these carbohydrate sources can lead to weight gain and diabetes. For weight loss, making healthy carbohydrate choices, and practicing portion control are the keys to long term success.
MYTH: Fat Makes You Fat
Fat supplies energy for our body, just like protein and carbohydrates. Not only is fat part of every cell in your body, it also provides essential fatty acids our bodies can’t make. Fat has a role in regulating hormones, body temperature, immune function, reproduction, insulin signaling, and nutrient absorption to name a few. Fat's starting to sound pretty great, right?. Vitamins like A, D, E, and K rely on fat for absorption.
Dietary fat falls into one of three main categories: “good” unsaturated fat, “bad” saturated fat, and "evil" trans-fat. Unsaturated are necessary and beneficial to our health, while the bad kind can accumulate and lead to a multitude of health problems. Unsaturated dietary fats can be found in two major forms: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These can be found in a variety of plant and animal sources. An important type of polyunsaturated fats are known as Omega-3 fats. We cannot produce these fats ourselves, and must source them from the foods we eat. Foods that contain high amounts of monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocados, nuts and seeds. Foods that contain high amounts of polyunsaturated fats include sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, walnuts, flax seed, and fish. More avocado, you say? No problem!
TRUTH: Not All Fat is Created Equal
Alright, now let's tackle the dark side of fat. Saturated fats are found in primarily in animal sources, and a few plant sources like coconut oil. In excess, fat from this category can lead to higher LDL cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, and put you at risk for cardiovascular diseases. Sources of saturated fat include: red meat, butter, full-or reduced fat dairy products. While not found in nature, trans fats were formulated to increase shelf life of packaged foods, along with making them taste better.
Trans-fat is found in fried foods, commercial baked goods, donuts, and pastries. Similar to saturated fat, trans-fat is known to increase your risk for developing heart disease, along with raising cholesterol and triglyceride levels. While less common these days, manufacturers are allowed to list 0g trans-fat on a nutrition label, as long as the item contains less than 0.5g or less per serving. Check the ingredients list and look for the words “partially hydrogenated”. If it’s on the list, the product contains trans-fat!
MYTH: Eggs Are Bad For Your Health
Eggs have been demonized in the past because they contain a large amount of cholesterol, which was believed to increase the risk of heart disease. The truth is that despite their high content, eggs don't have much of an effect on your "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Eggs contain almost every essential vitamin and mineral our bodies need to function. In particular, eggs are a great source of choline- a nutrient important for brain health.
The Bottom Line
When adhering to a healthy diet, it's important to remember that each type of food gives you a different amount of energy. Your body processes each of these foods differently, and you must achieve the right mix of nutrients to sustain a healthy body weight. Too often, we reduce or eliminate specific food groups in attempt to lose weight. In reality, all we have to do is include more high quality and less low quality sources from each food category. While finding balance isn't easy, setting your mind to make one small improvement each day will eventually lead to big results!
Gal Shua-Haim is a registered dietitian and recipe developer. She has an all foods fit approach when it comes to nutrition. Her overall goal is to simplify your life in the kitchen by showing you that eating healthy can be easy without compromising taste.